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Abbas reminds Hamas he can dissolve government

Written by: Staff

ANKARA, Apr 24 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a sharp reminder to Hamas today he had the power to dissolve the new government, but said he did not want to do so and would give the group more time to embrace peacemaking.

''Hamas has to change some of its political attitudes. Let's wait a while and see if it will change,'' Abbas told Turkish CNN.

Shunned by the United States and the European Union for refusing to renounce violence and accept the pursuit of peace with Israel, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has been struggling for nearly a month to secure funds to pay overdue salaries to 165,000 government workers.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, speaking in Gaza, said funds collected by the Arab League in Cairo now totalled ''maybe'' 90 million dollars and that discussions were under way to bring that money quickly into the Authority.

Fearing US sanctions, many banks are refusing to handle any of the government's funds, and it remains to be seen whether any of the promised aid will make it through.

''Hamas is still acting as if it were in opposition, not in government. It has to face realities, it has to be in contact with Israel to meet the daily needs of the Palestinian people,'' Abbas said in remarks translated from English into Turkish.

''The constitution gives me the right to dismiss the government but I do not want to use this power,'' said Abbas, visiting Turkey at the start of a European fundraising tour.

Mohammad Nazal, a Hamas politburo member, said Abbas wanted the Palestinian government to fail.

''This is an attempt to blackmail Hamas to change its political position. Instead of calming media attacks, he is bizarrely talking about failure of a government that barely took office,'' Nazal, who lives in exile in Damascus, told Reuters.

Abbas, leader of the more moderate faction Fatah, last week vetoed Hamas's nomination of a Gaza Strip militant to a senior security post, prompting violent street confrontations and heightening fears of a possible Palestinian civil war.

PRESIDENTIAL GUARD A top aide said Abbas was seeking funds from the European Union to expand his own presidential guard by up to 40 per cent.

The expansion would be part of a broader aid package, estimated by some Western diplomats at nearly 55 million dollars, aimed at keeping Abbas's office running and shoring up the institutions he still oversees, from border security to Palestinian television.

Haniyeh urged members of his Hamas movement and Abbas's Fatah to show restraint following two days of clashes that wounded about 30 people.

''I appeal to all our people to return to calm and order,'' Haniyeh said after visiting the Health Ministry building in Gaza where Hamas and Fatah gunmen clashed yesterday.

Sporadic protests have broken out over unpaid March salaries, but some officials said it could get much worse.

The Arab League said over the weekend it intended to transfer 50 million dollars on Wednesday to the Palestinian Authority, enough to pay about 40 per cent of last month's overdue salaries.

On top of the 50 million dollars donated by Qatar, Saudi Arabia has sent 20 million dollars to aid the Palestinians to accounts set up in Egypt by the Arab League.

It was not immediately clear what Haniyeh's 90 million dollars figure included.

Even if the Palestinian Authority received all of the funds collected so far by the Arab League, it would still be well short of the nearly 120 million dollars needed to pay back salaries for the month of March alone.

Another 120 million dollars would be needed for April salaries, which come due next week.


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